Friday, May 17, 2019

While You Were Gone | a.k.a. (Lingchi)

Hello, AMPs


I'd been gone for nearly six months. It was a long six months, mind you, and my girl, Jenny, had been home waiting for me the entire time. 

Well, I suppose that's what she wanted me to believe. Maybe she decided halfway through my time away that she was tired of being alone and wanted companionship from someone else. Maybe she just grew tired of waiting around for me to call. Or of talking on the phone and never seeing me in person.

Whatever it was that made her distant, I never really knew. I just kept trying to keep our relationship going, hoping I could fix it when I got back.

My return was a surprise. 

It happened to come a month earlier than we'd expected it to. The second I got out of the cab, I saw our house, and it made butterflies well up in my stomach. 

I was so happy to be home, the feeling overwhelmed me, brought tears to my eyes and made me shake a bit. But another feeling --mostly fear-- made me hesitate. I worried that I'd been away too long. Maybe I would find another man in my bed. Maybe I would find that my lover no longer loved me. 

I made my way up the steps anyway, all the while realizing that Jenny's rose bush hadn't been trimmed in a few days. I wondered what she'd been up to. She normally tended to her flowers religiously. 

I'd spoken to her only the day before, and she'd seemed fine. Everything seemed normal, (more or less) until I made my way up the steps and found a handwritten letter addressed to me wedged in our locked door. The note had a red smudge on the side of it. At first glance it looked like blood.

Dear Charlie, 

While you were gone, a lot of things happened. Most of which, I really don't look forward to telling you now. I've kept my mouth shut about it when you call because what's happened isn't the kind of thing you tell someone over the phone. But it's not something I want to tell you in person either. 

It all started about three months ago when Toby started scratching at something under our bed. He would meow, claw and make a huge ruckus at night when I was trying to sleep. Every time I'd try to catch him underneath the bedframe, he'd run. 

Finally, I looked under the bed. I brought a flashlight and shone it at the bottom of the mattress. It just looked like a black smudge. 

I couldn't understand why it bothered the cat so much. It looked like someone had dumped Vantablack ashes on the bottom of the bed. Even though my curiosity was quelled by investigating the bottom of the matress, it still irked me that Tobs wouldn't leave it alone, so neither could I.

One night, I decided to slide under the bed without the flashlight just to see whatever it was that he saw. Looking back now, I really wish I hadn't done that. That small decision changed my life. 

I laid on the hardwood floor under the bed and looked up at the black smudge. It was like looking through a black hole. The spot was so dark, it stood out in the rest of the darkness. I waited patiently and my eyes finally adjusted. 

I started to see shadows moving. It was as if the "black hole" at the bottom of the mattress was a window to somewhere else. I watched, my breath held, my heart beating like a ritual drum, beads of sweat starting to form on my forehead and under my nose. 

I saw the ceiling of our bedroom through the hole at the bottom of the mattress. It was quite possibly the most odd, bizarre thing to ever have happened in this world. I was about to scramble out from under our bed and make a frantic call to my mother, or a priest maybe, when I saw your face on the other side of the hole. 

I froze. 

Then I just watched in awe. From what I could see at this angle, you sat down on the bed and put your head in your hands. Maybe you were crying. 

I shot out from my spot and immediatley inspected our bedroom, but there was no sign of you. I called your name, but there was no answer. 

I cried for a while, because seeing you, after so long made me remember what it was like when you were here. I don't mind telling you now that our relationship was a vapid thing; full of unspoken words and half-hearted promises made over a pillow. Most of the time, I was just left wondering why you were still around, your underwhelmed look of confusion constantly reminding me what I really was to you, but you never actually said it. The truth, I mean. 

For some reason, before you were gone, I'd been under the impression that without you, I might fade into nothing. But obviously, I'd been wrong because even though we were together, I still was alone. But, I still was alive. 

Anyway, seeing a copy of a person who's away through a mattress really has the ability to fuck a person up. 

I went to a psychiatrist. I told her nothing, but also everything, in a way. She said it was a stress hallucination. She said it was anxiety from your absence. She told me I needed a hobby. I told her she was full of shit, but politely. 

I found myself under our bed most nights just looking for a glimpse of Other You. He seemed better, for some reason. More compassionate, less self-centered than the real you, I'm sorry to say. I was drawn to him. At first, I was horrified, but slowly, as time passed, I saw that he was just a human being. From where, I'm not sure, but he existed just like you and I. 

One morning, I realized that Toby had gone missing. I looked for him everywhere. Under the bed was the first place I looked. Nothing at first, but I had a hunch, so I waited. Sure enough, Toby came crawling out of the mattress. He had been to the Other Side.

This entire time I'd been watching the black hole thinking it was a window, but it was more than that. It was a door. The hole had grown the more I looked through it, and I thought for a long time on whether or not I wanted to crawl through.

The whole situation was stupid on my part.

All of this happened because (even though you didn't deserve it), I missed you, and I wanted more than anything to see you face to face. Even if it was a version of you from another reality. I weighed my options; hemmed and hawed until I was blue in the face. Finally, I just decided to crawl through.

It worked. I pulled myself through a hole and came out into a world I didn't know, hoping to speak to a man I also didn't know but somehow loved.

He was taking off his watch at the dresser when I popped into the reality adjacent to ours.

At first he screamed. Then he cried. He asked if he could touch me. He cried some more and told me his Jenny was gone. He didn't say where she was, he just said gone. 

I'll spare you the longwinded back and forth that went on, but he and I actually talked, which was bizarre in and of itself. He asked me about my life, about Other Him. He was so happy to see me, I think the feeling made me high a little. That was something I never got to feel with you: the sensation of being wanted. It was intoxicating.

There was one catch to Other Charlie. For all his kindness and genuinely loving nature, I soon found out the hard way that nothing is perfect and the universe will inflict its pain on you, no matter what.

Other Charlie was more devoted, kinder, grateful and a skilled lover, but every time I touched him, I'd find a tiny cut somewhere on my body. At first, they were so small, I thought they were just from where Toby and I had been playing and your cat had inadvertently scratched me, but as the days went on, I realized that was not the truth.

In the beginning, I was so in love with his new, better Charlie, I just ignored it. But before long, my forearms, back and sides were full of welts. They were angry and red. It became uncomfortable to wear clothes. 

One morning, after a particulary passionate night, I found a tiny slice on the inside of my eyelid. How many more cuts did I have inside me that I couldn't see? How much danger was I truly in? The questions bothered me and I needed them answered, but I was too scared to ask out loud.

I couldn't do the dishes without bleeding. I couldn't take a shower without bleeding. My rose bushes went untended. And through all of it, Other Charlie just begged me to stay here on this side of the mattress with him. 

But these tiny cuts just reminded me of the old you. The you on our side. I remember thinking 'there is no version of this man who won't hurt me'. And I was right, but my heart didn't want to listen to my head. As usual.

Days passed while I was in denial about the real you and Other Charlie, and still, I tried to ignore it. Until finally, it became too much to ignore. Too much pain and misery to endure. I woke up one day with blood trickling from the corner of my mouth and it was agony to move. 

The Other You tried to kiss me and tell me that he loved me, that things would get better, but I knew the truth. Even though I didn't want it, the reality of this twisted affair was that I wasn't supposed to be with you. Either of you. I told him not to touch me anymore. 

He listened, but clearly was hurt by it. Right in front of my eyes, I watched as a cut sliced across his face-- as if drawn by the hand of an invisble artist. He yelped and touched his wound with his finger tips. 

So many things were unsaid in a single moment of silence between Other Charlie and I. The fact that when he was the one to hurt, he was no longer willing to vehemently stress that I should stay. When he got his first cut, of course, the tables had turned. 

My brain wanted answers about the mechanics of it all. Where were these wounds coming from? Was it just the karmatic nature of the universe trying to pull us apart or something less meaningful? Was his love hurting me? Was my honesty hurting him?

In the end, it didn't matter.

I said nothing and made my way back home. The black hole under the bed seemed to shrink in the time I'd been on the other side with Other Charlie. It pulled at my cuts and made them bleed. When I got home, to my world, I lay there under our bed, naked and bleeding and scared for myself. 

I'd lost track of time. Of who I was, as well. And all I had left of it was pain.

It took a few days for my skin to heal enough for me to take a real shower again instead of just a sponge bath. And several more days before I could sit down and write you this letter.

Now, I'm sure you won't believe any of this. You'll probably think I'm crazy. That I'm trying to find an elaborate way of breaking up with you, but sadly that is not the case. 

The hole in the mattress taught me more than any book or other life lesson ever has before: that no love should hurt, physically or emotionally. And most importantly, that being alone isn't worse than a slow death by a million tiny cuts. 

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My novel, Trigram, is in the works, but in the meantime, I'll probably be working on short stories such as the ones on Wicked Shorts. (Wink)

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